7 trips that put families in close contact with local wildlife

Snorkel with Whale Sharks in Cancun

Fulfill your family’s ultimate once-in-a-lifetime bucket list adventure by taking a dip with whale sharks – the biggest (and most friendly) fish in the world! From May to September, families staying at sister properties CasaMagna Marriott Cancun Resort and JW Marriott Cancun Resort & Spa can embark by boat to snorkel alongside these magnificent gentle giants where the Caribbean Sea meets the Gulf of Mexico. Though they measure up to 40 feet long and weigh in at 15 tons, whale sharks feed exclusively on plankton and are totally harmless to humans. Added perk: guests at the Cancun Marriott Resorts can check out a GoPro HER04 for the day to capture unbelievable underwater family photo ops.

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Explore the Costa Rican rainforest

For an unforgettable nature-filled vacation, families should head to Tabacón Grand Spa Thermal Resort, spread across 900 acres of natural rainforest reserve in Costa Rica’s northern region — an area responsible for 6% of the entire world’s biodiversity. With more than 500 species of local plant and wildlife on property, kiddos just might spot a coatimundis, toucans or howler monkeys. Families can have nearby animal encounters with activities like horseback riding, ziplining through the trees, rainforest tours and more. As an added bonus, the carbon neutral resort offers an eco-friendly environment that teaches kids about sustainability and how to protect the area’s natural resources.

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Swim with sea turtles in Barbados

SUP dude? For an unforgettable animal encounter, families will love Colony Club‘s stand-up paddle board (SUP) and turtle swim excursion. Starting out on the white, warm sands of Barbados’ renowned beach, families will paddle out to The Lone Star Restaurant, one of the local, turtle hangouts, and dive into the crystal blue waters to get up-close-and-personal with the island’s friendliest marine animals – the once-endangered population of hawksbill and leatherback turtles.

 

Hangout with reptiles in Curacao

Situated on a 27 acre plantation of rare natural preserve, the Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort in Curacao offers an island-within-an-island feel with some of the most varied and exotic flora and fauna in the Caribbean. Through the resort’s eco-friendly, locally inspired Camp Arawak program, kids will love the chance to feed the resort’s resident iguanas. Plus, in between watersport adventures like snorkeling and paddleboarding, families can observe hawksbill turtles nesting along the resort’s private beach every July through September.

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Paddleboard with Dolphins in Jupiter, Florida

Hotel guests staying at the oceanfront resort can head to the nearby Blueline Surf & Paddle Co., and work up a sweat navigating the mangroves of the Intracoastal Waterways on a 90-minute paddleboard eco tour, where you might see manatees, dolphins and sea turtles. Complimentary beach cruisers are also available for resort guests to get the heart pumping as they explore the charming, seaside town’s iconic landmarks, including the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse and the Loggerhead Marine Life Center.  

Encounter sea lions, blue footed boobies and penguins galore in The Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos Islands are home to some of the most unique species in the world, and Ecoventura’s fleet of eco-friendly cruises brings families face to face with daily excursions through the archipelago’s diverse islands. From swimming alongside sea lions (and plenty of curious sea lion pups) to watching the Blue Footed Boobies shake their feet in a mating dance, snorkeling with penguins off the islands of Santa Cruz and Isabella. In a destination as pristine and protected as the Galapagos, wildlife wanders freely and fearlessly in the islands, meaning parents and kids are in for the trip of a lifetime.

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Kayak through a bioluminescent bay in Puerto Rico

A kayaking tour through the mangrove forrest of the Laguna Grande takes families to a secret hideaway — Fajardo’s bioluminescent bay. A short drive from San Juan, the magical waters are filled with millions of prehistoric organisms that when touched, leave a breathtaking glow in the moonlight. The excursion, organized by the family friendly San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino, invites families to learn the history and science behind the twinkling trail in the bio bay while enjoying a ride under the stars.

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Feed alpacas and llamas in Cusco

The colorful city of Cusco and the surrounding Sacred Valley of the Incas is the perfect destination for adventurous families looking for a rich dose of culture. A short drive from the city center, Awana Kancha – a llama, alpaca and vicuña farm — brings families face to face with the region’s most loved furry animals in all shapes and colors. Upon arrival, guests are greeted by the resident animals eagerly awaiting to be fed giant handfuls of grass. The interactive feedings are followed by textile weaving demonstrations by the local women keeping the tradition alive. After a day long day of adventure, families can relax in  the historic JW Marriott El Convento Cusco, a 16th century convent turned hotel whose lobby is frequented by alpacas and llamas.
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~ Contributed by Julia Cavalieri, account coordinator at Diamond PR. Follow Julia on Twitter @diamondpr

Photos tour of Washington Slagbaai National Park

Who knew that a fifth of the island of Bonaire is a nationally protected nature sanctuary? Washington Slagbaai National Park was established in 1969 and covers an area of 5.643 hectares. Once a private property of Julio Caesar “Boy” Herrera, the land was sold to the government of Netherland Antilles with the promise of not developing it commercially. As a result, this beautiful area is home to protected plant and wildlife, now maintained by the non profit organization, STINAPA Bonaire.

How the park got its name is an interesting story. In the early 1920’s the land was a private plantation named “America” and the main entrance (now visitor center) was the spot where the workers came to receive their wages and apply for work. This house came to be known as the capital of America – Washington, as symbol of decision making and prosperity.

Washington Slagbaai National Park merits a day long visit, specially if you really want to enjoy all its benefits. It is possible to do a driving tour of the park in less than 2 hours, stopping to see pristine beaches, caves, and flamingoes in their natural habitats. If you pack a picnic and gear, you can spend the day hiking, walking, snorkeling, diving, swimming and bird watching. There is only one restaurant/ inn inside the park but it’s not open year round.

The park is a photographer’s dream as one can spend countless hours capturing barely moving iguanas and elegant flamingo parties. Then there are tall cactuses and giant windmills. The landscape feels more like Arizona, then a Caribbean island, but no words can capture what you see yourself.

Here are some images I took at Washington Slagbaai National Park.

The visitor center houses a small museum that gives an overview of the island of Bonaire, especially its flora and fauna, its pioneer citizens, what they cultivated and tools they used. Pick up maps and cold drinks before heading inside for the day. Tickets are $25 per person.

visitors center Washington Slagbaai National Park

There is abundant wildlife inside the park, including iguanas, lizards, wild goats and 203 species of birds. If you look closely, you will see how the aloe plant attaches itself to the goat and transports itself for pollination.

goats at Washington Slagbaai National Park

The geology of the island is also visible inside the park. You will see dark rock formations, remains of solidified volcanic ashes as well as light colored coral rocks. The oldest dating sediments found in the area are 100 million years old. High winds and waves have caused erosion of the rocks, forming interesting patterns of erosion.

erosions at Washington Slagbaai National Park

 

The Subí Brandaris Trail leads visitors to the highest peak on Bonaire, 241 meters (784 ft.) high.  On a clear day you can see the island of Curaçao (46 km (30 miles) away from Bonaire, and, on exceptionally clear days, the Santa Ana Hill in the Paraguaná Peninsula of Venezuela, and the mountain range south of Puerto Cabello, Venezuela.

highest peak at Washington Slagbaai National Park

The west shore of the Park has many beaches where one can enjoy snorkeling and swimming. The dive sites are great as the coral around the area is well protected and not crowded.

Washington Slagbaai National Park

The park is one of the best places on the island for observing birds, due to its remoteness and also the many types of habitat that includes salt-flats, fresh water wells, beaches, limestone plateaus by the shoreline and thorny forests. Flamingos at Washington Slagbaai National Park

Dutch influence is evident with these windmills, harvesting clean wind energy for the island. Bonaire is very environmentally conscious and generates most of its own energy.

windmills

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